Scottish Life Magazine
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Notes from the Isles

An Island Journal by Kate Francis

We went over to the old house in the islands for Easter this year -- such a delight to be back at that special time.

We arrived off the boat just in time for the Good Friday service in the main church en route home -- not our local, but it doesn't matter which church you go to in the islands so long as you go! Instantly, I was transported back to all those previous Easters where every pew was packed to capacity. I saw again those wonderful weathered faces and I absorbed the completely dedicated concentration as I gave myself up to the old, familiar ritual: the strangely Moorish cadences of the chanted responses; the simple dignity of the priest; the perfect behaviour of the children; the long procession as everyone filed up to kiss the crucifix; the eerie silence as we all filed out afterward and dispersed, with nods to each other but no banter or chat. "Please leave in silence," said the priest, and we obeyed.

And then there was the contrast of the service on Easter Sunday in our own parish church to the south -- the sun shining in through the windows illuminating an exuberant congregation, smiling and chatting until the arrival of the priest. And the music and joy of the service culminating in the priest handing out Easter eggs to all the children and then the convivial gathering outside on the sheep-grazed grass afterward, and the happy exchange of greetings with old friends and neighbours and the marvellous feeling of renewed hope.

After Mass that Sunday we dashed back to the house and our daughter and her family rustled together a picnic -- and off we went to their favourite beach where we barbecued sausages and black pudding and sat in the lee of the sand dunes while the children stripped to their knickers and dashed into the icy sea. I have to admit that the grown-ups did not even remove their fleece jackets and scarves, but thoroughly enjoyed a vicarious bathe.

That evening the children declared that there was to be an impromptu regatta. It was high tide and the oldies gathered on the crumbling stone pier below the house. The Fleet consisted of a canoe, an ancient rowing boat and a couple of Optimists which are one step higher on the nautical ladder than washing-up bowls with a mast and tiny sail. The regatta appeared to be a competition to see who could capsize whom, and the winner was the one who could manage to stay aboard their craft the longest. I tested the water with my toe and it was extremely cold but the sun continued to beam down and no one caught pneumonia or drowned.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2009 issue of Scottish Life.

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